CAMDEN, NJ — A restructuring of the Camden Fire Department (CFD) that will take effect Tuesday follows a string of incidents that are a cause for concern over firefighters' ability to respond effectively in the city, a union official says.
The latest all-hands June 18 fire resulted in 14 people displaced in the Cramer Hill section of the city. Nearly a dozen other fires also took place from March 31 to June 10, including the department responding to over 100 emergency incidents in the aftermath of severe storms.
The city’s plan — which involved fire union input — was necessary in helping to fill a $2.4 million budget gap left by the expiration of a Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant — awarded in 2017 to help hire 27 new firefighters.
As part of the plan, which the mayor has said assures the city will still have what it needs to respond to emergencies, the department would leave six vacant firefighter positions empty, cut a captain’s position, cut the number of battalion chiefs (9) by one, cut a fire inspector’s position, cut two deputy fire chiefs positions, and cut two fire prevention specialist positions.
The city clarified that the plan will not mean any impact to front line firefighter positions or CFD response times.
City spokesman Vincent Basara said they are in fact part a month-long process that would translate into no loss of CFD personnel but instead a way gain savings through attrition, restatements and budget restructuring.
"The city worked closely with the state, CFD, & unions to implement a plan and mitigate that impact and a loss of personnel," Basara said.
However, a union president feels the impact will be felt nonetheless.
“This action leaves a serious vacuum in the command staff at the height of the summer season and on the heels of a statewide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” President of Local 2578 Sam Muñoz told TAPinto Camden, pointing to the recent Cramer Hill fire and the need for a deputy chief on the scene.
“This action severely jeopardizes the safety of personnel on the ground and significantly reduces our capabilities to efficiently mitigate emergencies and provide the community the great service they have become accustomed to,” he said.
Muñoz said as of Friday the plan would resume, but he hopes the positions will be restored.
Editor's Note: This article initially stated that three fire fighters would be laid off as a result of the plan. A spokesman says the city has initiated a rehiring of those individuals.
Read more on the restructuring plan here: ‘Morale Extremely Low’ As Camden Firefighters Notified of Layoffs During COVID-19 Crisis